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We Wanted to Be Writers: Life, Love, and Literature at the Iowa Writers' Workshop

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  125 ratings  ·  29 reviews
We Wanted to be Writers is a rollicking and insightful blend of original interviews, commentary, advice, gossip, anecdotes, analyses, history, and asides with nearly thirty graduates and teachers at the now legendary Iowa Writers' Workshop between 1974 and 1978. Among the talents that emerged in those years-writing, criticizing, drinking, and debating in the classrooms and ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published August 1st 2011 by Skyhorse Publishing
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3.67  · 
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 ·  125 ratings  ·  29 reviews

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Don Wallace
Apr 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I've read about 100 pages of this in galley and it's unlike any book you'll ever encounter about creative writing in today's world. It takes a group of writers in the Iowa Workshop, 1975-78, and asks them what it was like, what did they learn, what do they think now looking back?

There are lots of big names before they were big, reflecting on what it's like to come up writing through the ranks. Lots of unknowns with good stuff to say. (Full disclosure: I attended the Iowa Workshop with many in t
Jan 17, 2012 rated it liked it
Perhaps not the best book to read during unemployment. The first 2/3rds made me feel like a complete failure, but the last third has me on quite the kick of productivity, so maybe it was worth it in the end. And there are quite a few fantastic moments in the book, such as the below.

"...we had to write by the rules: twenty-five lines per page, double-spaced; no more than fifteen pages, max; no cross-outs, no handwritten corrections; and every story had to follow the Five-Step Formula: (1) open in
Megan Rowe
Jun 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
I don't worship at the altar of Iowa, but I sure do have a helluva lot of respect for the program, and when people DO worship Iowa, they are probably thinking about this four year period where Iowa's students couldn't lose. Or so it seems. Though it is true that literary greats like T.C. Boyle, Jane Smiley, Irving (student in the 60s, but teacher in the 70s),Jayne Anne Phillips, Joy Harjo, and so many more came out of this period of time, but not all of the students went into writing, and not al ...more
J Clement Wall
Jun 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
It has always been my not-so-secret belief that graduates of the Iowa Writers' Workshop occupy a different plane than I do, breathe rarefied air, write their final drafts first... in pen. Turns out, they're mere humans after all. In fact they're even more fragile than regular humans; they're writers. If you've ever been curious about the Iowa Writers' Workshop, this is a great read - honest, enlightening, funny, and in the end surprisingly reassuring.
Dawn Cook
Jul 22, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: for-gifts
I actually requested this book for my best friend who has a great talent for writing. She is starting a book and I thought this would be a great tool to help her. I will let you know when she finishes the book what she thought. Thanks again for the book.
Diane Prokop
Nov 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing

Ever wondered what your life would have been like had you attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop? I have but I don’t have to imagine anymore, because I just finished reading We Wanted To Be Writers: Life, Love, and Literature at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop by Eric Olsen and Glenn Schaeffer. The bottom line is that I missed out on some incredible times, especially since I would have been there in the seventies - the golden era - when all the writers/teachers who contributed to this book were there.
Jul 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
A quite fascinating book of interviews with writers who graduated from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Though they made some contacts there to help them on, they faced the same struggles with creativity and the publishing world as anyone who is self-taught, and only ten percent of the graduates continued in writing -- and likely few of those earned a living. So the book points out, a masters' degree in writing is not like a degree in medicine, where almost everyone will go on to practice!

I gave it f
Mary Mansperger
Jan 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Interesting book about the writers who attended the Iowa Writers' Workshop in the late 70's early 80's. Interviews about their experience, what made them want to write, etc. You can jot down books and writers to look up as you go.
Oct 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is an excellent collection of interviews, commentaries, and reflections from graduates and teachers from the Iowa Writer’s’ Workshop between 1974–1978. There is priceless advice about writing and the writing life throughout the pages of this book.
Jan 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
'We Wanted To Be Writers' is a dialogue among almost thirty students and teachers of the esteemed Iowa Writers' Workshop, while they attended during the 1970s. At times, the writing seems like many people are in a room discussing the book as it is transcribed, with a section from one person that seemingly connects to what the last has said.. 'We Wanted to Be Writers' is named that for a reason -- not all of them actually went on to become writers. Though there are some amazing writers included h ...more
Sep 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: on-writing
As someone who has dappled with the idea of graduate school in creative writing, this book intrigued me because it highlighted THE school for creative writing -- the world famous Iowa Writer's Workshop. The book is set up in thematic sections (how each writer fell in the love with the craft, why Iowa, life at Iowa, life after Iowa, etc.). A brief narrative introduces the section (usually with long-winded pontifications about writing) followed by a series of direct quotes from the featured author ...more
Dec 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
This took me forever to read. Not because it was bad or boring, but neither was it strongly propulsive. Chatty, is what I'd call it, but with a lot of good commentary from a lot of different angles about writing, the writing life, the pursuit of an MFA, etc. I just I kept getting distracted by all sorts of other shiny things.

It's a collective anecdotal narrative, with input from people you've heard of (T.C. Boyle, John Irving, Sandra Cisneros, Allan Gurganus) and then a bunch you haven't, becaus
In the mid-seventies, Iowa was a fruitful place for writers. Talents like T C Boyle, Jane Smiley, Allan Gurganus, and Sandra Cisneros all honed their genius at the famous Writers’ Workshop. But they are not the only grads of the Workshop. . .

This compilation of reminiscences includes those of more obscure writers, as well as those of folks who have never made a living as writers, despite their education.

I thought this collection of memories was interesting, but it could have used some serious
I finally finished reading this book. Woah, that sounds exhausted, doesn't it? And maybe I am.

Reading the collective memory of so many writers is tiring, but nonetheless very interesting. I learned a lot about writing culture in the US then and now.

This is not a book I could read quickly, though. A few pages at a time, then I had to take a break and put it down, sometimes for several days or a week, only to pick it up again and read another couple of pages. I know that others raced through it, b
Aug 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
I read this book in the optimal way. On my phone while walking my dog. This book is all anecdotes about writing at the University of Iowa. Being an alumnus, it held special interest to me. But the best part was that I could put it down for a week or more and not feel like starting over or dropping it completely because of confusion. It was also amusing to read some well known writers including John Irving and Jane Smiley. All the personalities are here: the gracious, the egotistical, the Palaniu ...more
Jan 15, 2012 rated it liked it
Composed largely of interviews with people who graduated from the Iowa Writers' Workshop in the mid-70's, this book is not particularly elegant, but it has all kinds of interesting tidbits/opinions/insights about what it's like (or at least what it used to be like) to be a student in that MFA program. So much back-biting and politicking. I wonder if it's still like that. There's an amusing passage in which the authors and interviewees start to sound like they're imitating Hemingway, and it gets ...more
Aug 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
My latest literary matchup is a murder mystery (Tiger Lily's Orchids), a nature book (Remarkable Creatures), and this one, and believe it or not the Iowa Writer's Workshop trumps the other 2 hands down. And I was LOVING Remarkable Creatures. (I guess it's good to break your book into lots of easily digestible quotes.)
Sep 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I so enjoyed this book; it is an insider's view of the Iowa Writer's Workshop. One of the things I especially enjoyed was a listing of books the participant themselves were reading. What a wide variety of interests! It is frank and honest; famous and not so famous writers are very generous in sharing insights into the writing process. A great read!!
Nanako Mizushima
Aug 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
For anyone thinking about a life as a writer, this is a fun, informative, terrifying, and inspiring read. It is like sitting in a dusty, basement bar, eavesdropping on a bunch of (old = anyone over 25) men and women who are drinking and reminiscing. Like one of the writers, I'm older but still feel the excitement and joy of writing. Writing is not a profession, it's an addiction.
Michele Mcconnell
Oct 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I keep this by my bedside in hopes that it will bring some inspiration in moments of utter despair. I turn to a page and read about writing, and I find myself with my journal or the current work I am attempting to get on the page and I am writing.
Aug 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
When I won this via goodreads giveaway I was super excited. I'm a writer and this really resonated with me. It took me a long time to read it as I read it in bits and pieces but I feel like I actually got more out of it for that.
Jun 20, 2012 added it
I grabbed this book for an airlplane read and couldn't finish it. What depressing drivel. I'm interested in the famous Iowa Writers's Worksop, but this book was more about posers who wanted to be writers than artist/craftsmen who wanted to write.
Aug 17, 2011 added it
Shelves: orphan-train
Love the traditions to the Iowa Writers Workshop. I like peeking into the thoughts of participants.
Terry Chess
May 05, 2016 rated it liked it
For anyone who writes, or is fascinated by writers, this book gives an inside view of how young writers earn their chops.
Sep 08, 2011 rated it liked it
This book read like dialogue in a writer's work shop. Great insights of both the vulnerabilities and the successes of these writers. Recommend to young writers who are doubting their skill.
Jordan, The Picture Magician (aka Probie)
Not what I expected it to be. :(
Jul 19, 2012 rated it liked it

Here is a link to my review of, "We Wanted to Be Writers":
Gary Butler
Nov 07, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir
26th book read in 2011.

number 196 out of 230 on my all time book list.

Follow the link below to see my video review:
Mar 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
An original approach to a drive to be a writer. Insights abound.
rated it liked it
Oct 09, 2011
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I was born and raised in Oakland—go A’s! California. I'm a journalist, editor, and occasional novelist. My sixth non-fiction book, We Wanted to be Writers: Life, Love, and Literature at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, was released August 1, 2011. It's a series of conversations about writing, the creative process, the lit biz, and more with nearly 30 classmates and teachers at the Iowa Writers' Worksho ...more
“Writer’s block comes from one’s wanting only to write good stuff. Well, the good stuff and the bad stuff are all part of the stuff. No good stuff without bad stuff.” 0 likes
“Your willingness to explore or confess all that you know about life emotionally. You must render yourself open, maybe painfully so, and deeply interpretive toward your own experience. Writing becomes a personal forensic. Experience, not belief or intellectual conviction, by turns prodigal and indecent and subliminal: that’s what you transfigure and clarify into story. 2.  Your realization of oppositional or pivotal conflict through dramatic dialogue, never exposition, and the nemesis gets the better lines, as in real life. 3.   Your discovery of a resolution that won’t be the same as the one you envisioned when you began.” 0 likes
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